Is there a gender gap when it comes to developing Alzheimer’s disease? A look at the numbers seems to say yes, as a staggering two-thirds of the 5 million Americans diagnosed with Alzheimer’s are women. Until very recently, research on this question seemed to coalesce around the issue of life expectancy; not only is age the greatest risk factor in developing Alzheimer’s, but women statistically live longer than men, with an average life expectancy of 81 compared to 76 years.
But recent studies suggest there’s more to this picture. At Stanford University, for example, scientists have been able to prove that women who carry a gene known as APOE-E4 are almost twice as likely to develop Alzheimer’s than men who are carriers. The fact that women live longer than men explains only part of their susceptibility, according to study author Dr. Michael Greicius. “Even after correcting for age,” concludes Dr. Greicius, “women appear to be at greater risk.”
The reasons for the disparity are still unclear, and have led the research community to examine the role that women’s hormones may play, and whether perhaps menopause might be considered a tipping point in Alzheimer’s onset.